Impacts of Silicosis

Occupational Impacts of Silicosis

“TB is linked with a deadly silicosis epidemic, hidden for decades in rural South Africa. Gold mining firms must make amends.” – Jaine Roberts, The Hidden Epidemic Amongst Former Miners: Silicosis, Tuberculosis and the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

A 2007 health and safety audit found that the tuberculosis rates in mines continued to be the highest in the world, and the audit was blunt as to why: “… there is a pervasive culture of non-compliance to legislative requirements. Inquiry after inquiry makes findings to the effect that risk assessments are not conducted, training is not done, early-morning examinations are not done, equipment is not maintained and the list goes on and on.”

Jaine Roberts, the director of research at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and the author of The Hidden Epidemic Amongst Former Miners: Silicosis, Tuberculosis and the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, says, “the epidemic of silicosis in South Africa is the legacy of an occupationally acquired disease that has been ‘exported’ or ‘externalised’ to the rural areas of the country.”

The impact that this “export” has on rural communities in South Africa is unknown as its impact is widespread, which causes a serious domino effect negatively impacting both communities’ economies and residents’ health.

To address this, Professor of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Jock McCullouch, wrote in 2009 in Counting the Cost: Gold Mining and Occupational Disease in Contemporary South Africa that a “Justice Commission” for the occupational diseases of mining needs to be established. The Justice Commission’s mission would be “the redress the legacy of mining related occupational disease, and assessing restitution for all those former miners suffering from occupational disease. There is no doubt that poverty in many parts of the country is structurally linked to mining. Ill-health, and the poverty that follows ill-health, is a consequence of factors that were wholly beyond the miner’s control. There is a need to move beyond the strangely and deeply embedded idea in South Africa that somehow people are deserving of their poverty, and to look more closely at the consequences of occupational disease.”

Every voice has a right to be heard. In defense of their rights and to help protect the future of their families, communities and country, our clients seek to hold the responsible gold mining companies accountable for their fair share in contributing to this health epidemic in the case, Bongani Nkala & Others v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited & Others, No. 48226/12 (South Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg).